SALT LAKE CITY — Utah quarterback Jason Shelley has had one of the best vantage points for the Rivalry Game with BYU. The redshirt freshman was on the sideline last season when the Utes edged the Cougars 19-13 in Provo. Tyler Huntley completed 27 of 36 passes for 300 yards that night, adding 89 yards rushing and one touchdown.
Now, more than 14 months later, Shelley steps into the spotlight in place of the injured Huntley. The former Texas high school star is slated to make his third collegiate start Saturday (8 p.m., FS1) at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“It’s pretty, pretty exciting,” Shelley said. “There’s a lot of energy in the stadium and just watching it from the sideline, that kind of gave me a perspective on how, like, important it is to the whole state of Utah. So we’re going to be excited for this week.”
After last weekend’s 30-7 win at Colorado, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was emphatic that Shelley would be up for the challenge.
“He’s been in Pac-12 games. So why would he not be ready?” Whittingham said. “We’re in the Pac-12 Conference. That’s our primary objective. It’s Pac-12 Conference play.”
Shelley has guided the Utes to victories over Oregon and Colorado the past two weeks, leading the program to its Pac-12 South title and a berth in the conference championship game on Nov. 30 against Washington or Washington State.
“Very pleased, yes, absolutely,” Whittingham said. “I don’t know how we could ask for anything more out of him from the two games that he’s come in and how he’s functioned and how he’s answered the bell.”
In the wins over Oregon and Colorado, Shelley completed 29 of 54 passes for 483 yards and two TDs. He also rushed for 51 yards and a pair of scores. Including limited action against Weber State, Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State, Shelley has passed for 582 yards and ran for 98 more on the season.
The success, particularly Shelley’s 2-0 record as a starter, hasn’t come as a surprise to Utah receiver Jaylen Dixon. He’s a childhood friend of Shelley and the guys were teammates at Lone Star High School in Frisco, Texas.
“He’s been this successful for his whole life,” said Dixon, who recalled their middle school days on the football field. “So he’s no, you know, slouch and he’s just showing it now.”
The duo teamed on a 47-yard touchdown pass in the snowy Utah triumph at Colorado. They also connected on a 61-yard throw, finishing with four receptions for 125 yards by game’s end.
Dixon remembers sprinting downfield during their freshman or sophomore year in high school and having Shelley launch the ball to him. That’s when he knew they could hook up on deep passes.
“He’s always had that strong arm and — as you see — he just keeps showing it,” Dixon said.
The Texas connection helped Utah to move the ball deep down the field in the latest triumph.
“It’s huge, you know, just having this guy right there throwing me the ball,” Dixon said while nodding to Shelley in the postgame press conference. “It’s been that way since high school.”
Shelley was a two-time All-District MVP at Lone Star. As a senior, he passed for 2,975 yards and rushed for 629. Dixon earned all-state recognition that season — netting 1,239 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns.
“He’s really fast. So he stretches the defense vertically and we use his speed to our advantage,” Shelley said. “We connected on a lot of deep balls.”
Saturday’s game, though, was a first playing in the snow. A second may come this weekend with snow in the forecast for the Utah-BYU game Saturday night.16 comments on this story
“I was more worried about the snow being in guys’ eyes than worrying about it being cold,” Shelley said.
In the end, the weather just didn’t matter much.
“We were out there and just played football,” Shelley said. “They kept us warm on the sideline, kept my hands warm.”
The offense, he continued, just had to go out and make plays.
It’s part of an attitude the team has adopted as the season winds down.
“For the last five weeks, everything’s been like a Super Bowl for us,” Shelley said. “So we go out there and play like it’s the next biggest thing.”